September 2, 2013

VATICAN CITY - Jesus told his disciples that the entrance to heaven is like a "narrow gate," not because God has made salvation difficult, but because people find it difficult to recognize their sinfulness and accept God's mercy, Pope Francis said.

Jesus is "the gateway to salvation," the pope said Aug. 26 before reciting the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter's Square. "The gate that is Jesus is never closed; this gate is never closed, it is always open and open to everyone, without distinction, without exclusions, without privileges."

The pope said he knew some people would be skeptical and say, "But Father, surely I am excluded, because I am a great sinner. I have done so many things in my life."

But the pope insisted, "No, you are not excluded."

"Jesus prefers the sinner, always, in order to pardon him, to love him," Pope Francis said. "Jesus is waiting for you, to embrace you, to pardon you. Don't be afraid."

Commenting on the day's Gospel reading, Luke 13.22-30, the pope said the narrow gate that is Jesus is not the entrance to "a torture chamber."

Being a Christian does take effort, he said. It involves living to the faith "in prayer, in works of charity, in promoting justice, in doing good. For the narrow gate which is Christ must pass into our whole life."

Jesus, Pope Francis said, lights up a person's life with "a light that never goes out."

The light of faith is not momentary like fireworks, he said. "No, it is a soft light that always endures and that gives us peace. That is the light that we meet if we enter through the gate of Jesus."